Timeline: Between seasons 3 and 4.
Written for Callmesandy, as a part of the Between-the-seasons Ficathon.
Thanks to: Karabair, for beta-reading; Bohemiancachet, for inspiring the first section.
"You'll have to go back to the hotel," Justine says, her voice brittle and strangely unsatisfied. "They'll figure it out otherwise. And maybe they'll find him."
It isn't until this moment that Connor believes, truly believes, that she was his father's second-in-command. He has accepted the claim because of the way he had found them together, his father's blood drying on her hands while his head was in her lap, and because of her knowledge and aid against Angelus. But he has not truly believed it until now.
She's sending him back to the hotel, that is what she's doing; back to the house where everything smells of Angelus and of his own treachery, those moments when he felt anything but hate for the monster, those moments that cost his father his life. She also allows him to claim the spoils of victory, belated as that victory was. It is punishment and reward in one. It is something his father would have done.
The salt of the sea is in her hair when she suddenly leans forward, touching his cheek with her hand. It's a warrior's hand, strong and calloused, and there is a scar in the middle.
"I should have been your mother, damm it," Justine says, and for a brief moment, he feels her mouth on his. It is only the second kiss in his life, and very different from Sunny's; he tastes nothing but anger and grief on her cold lips, and is too startled to do anything in return. "Damm it all to hell," Justine says, and disappears in the night.
It's a week before he looks for her, but he never finds her again.
By the time Connor returns to the Hyperion, he has found another reason for not leaving on his own, looking for the magical place called Utah which surely must exist somewhere. He doesn't know yet how complicit Fred and Gunn were in his father's death. On the beach, they talked about being charged by Angelus to distract him, but they were human. After living among beasts for so long, he does not want to believe they would so easily deliver one of their own to death, despite their subservience to a demon. Angelus could have deceived them, tricked them into believing he truly was a good man, a changed man. A valiant companion in a fight, and full of affection. He is good at that, Connor thinks, remembers laughter in the back of an alley, and hates Angelus just a little bit more.
As he doesn't know Fred and Gunn, and knows next to nothing about them, he cannot decide yet. He'll stay a while, accept punishment and reward, and will try to find out whether they have been dupes or fellow murderers.
Connor has left the Hyperion without being detected, and he returns the same way, climbing up to the window of the room Angelus gave him. As far as Fred and Gunn are concerned, he never left. Cordelia will probably return soon, not having met Angelus, and will wake everyone up; he'll have to pretend to help with the search.
Sitting on his bed, holding the letter his father wrote, he smells Angelus's traces there as well, and wonders whether this is the last trick of the demon: intermingling his scent with his father's, so Connor can't wish either away.
Fred talks more in a day than Connor and his father did during an entire month. The sound of her voice starts his first morning in the Hyperion, and most mornings after. It is utterly alien, but he finds himself clinging to it because of that. Sometimes when the sun sinks, or just after a kill, he forgets that his father is dead, and looks for him; never when Fred is around. Her voice is a firm anchor to the present.
She uses so many words, and so differently not just from his father but everyone else. Gunn's mode of speech is different, and so are those of the various people she takes him to see. Going to a "coffee shop" and ordering beverages, one just barks out a name, and gets the beverage, he's learned that much already in the few days before one father became ash and the other sunk to the sea; but with Fred, the procedure is very different. Her ramblings on his first day alone with her and Gunn are an introduction to just how huge the difference is.
"What do you want for breakfeast, tea or coffee? You know, when I was in Pylea, I dreamt of coffee every day for so long. Good strong coffee. With hickory. Or chocolate. Oh, Connor, you have to try hot chocolate! There's that store in Santa Monica that imports chocolate from Mexico, I'll buy some there. You know, I tried to grow some beans in Pylea, but the chemical structure never was right. I think it must have been the sun there. The wrong spectrum of light. You're so pale, we have to buy some sun screen for you. You probably never developed the right pigments, not in that place, that horrible, horrible place…"
"Fred," Gunn says, putting his hands on her shoulder, "we'll find them. They'll be back. Probably wanted to be alone for a good long morning after after waiting for so long. Not to worry."
The fact that Gunn's statement is not remotely related to anything Fred said leads Connor to the conclusion Fred converses in an idiom all her own whose true meaning has to be learned over time. It doesn't make deciding whether or not she knew Angelus used her to aid in his last murder any easier.
Wrapped with her myriad of explanations come all kinds of different tastes. It's odd to realize he has a choice here. In Quor'toth, you just ate and drank anything that wasn't poisonous. But Fred puts several cups in front of him and wants to know what he likes best, and he can't really make up his mind at first.
"Oh, wait," she says. "I forgot black tea. We still have Earl Grey because…"
And her voice peters out, all of a sudden. He remembers his father talking of tea, with a certain longing.
The best of brews, Stephen. It makes you think.
Of course, his father would never have the chance to taste tea again.
"I don't need it," Connor says. "This is good."
Gunn doesn't talk as much as Fred, but he's the one who brings up Daniel Holtz.
"Kid," he says when they're walking towards the building with an "apartment" to which, it seems, Cordelia has not returned, either, "you're not giving me any bullshit about Holtz having left town, right?"
"Charles," Fred says, but Gunn keeps looking at Connor. Connor stares back.
"He was not in his room when I returned," Connor says harshly. "Do you think I would be with you if I could be with him?"
Fred makes a tiny sound, like a bird getting shot from the sky.
"Hey," Gunn says, and it's not clear whether he's addressing Fred or Connor. "I'm just saying. Saying no one saw him leave. So Angel Hater Number One shows up, leaves town, and next thing you know, Angel and Cordy have gone missing? Smells suspicious to me."
"We're glad you're with us now, Connor," Fred says. "We missed you so much when you were… gone. All of us. You won't lose anyone else again, I promise."
Which is another example of Fred and Gunn talking in two different tongues. Connor finds he's starting to get used to it, because it doesn't surprise him anymore.
Showers are a great thing about this dimension. At first, Connor stays away from bath tubs because he remembers Sunny's corpse in one, but showers are different, and once Gunn has demonstrated how they work, he thoroughly enjoys using them. The sensation of hot and cold water running on bare skin, without having to fear some other predator using the opportunity to get rid of competition for water, the sheer freedom of it – it is intoxicating.
He doesn't like what Fred gives him to use along with the water for cleaning, though.
"Why not?" Fred asks, sounding curious rather than insulted, and he tells her. All the green, yellow, red fluids carry so many strong scents that they make his nose itch and cause a slight sensation of queasiness.
"Ah," Fred says. "So you've inherited vampire sense of smell. That's fascinating, Connor. You know, I always wanted to make a compare and contrast study, but, well, you can't exactly ask… anyway. Not to worry."
She introduces him to soap without smell next, and insists he uses the tooth paste as well.
"My teeth are fine," Connor protests when she explains the reason.
"But you want them to be fine in twenty years, too, right?" Fred asks. He hasn't really thought about being alive in twenty years. Age caught up with his father in Quor'toth fast, and most other creatures there had died earlier than that.
For no reason at all, he thinks of Angelus under the sea, unchanged, undead, twenty years hence.
"Sorry, Dennis," Gunn says, when they are in Cordelia's apartment to pack all her property in boxes because the landlady has called Fred and said the money for the lease was overdue. "I know it sucks, but she's still not back. Give the next guy hell, okay? Maybe that'll keep the place empty."
There is no one there. Gunn and Fred claim there is a ghost. Connor doesn't sense anything. At first, when they talked to thin air, he wondered whether it might be a test, some obscure way to trick him into revealing his knowledge of Angelus' whereabouts. Now he'd be suspecting a joke, but Gunn doesn't use his joke voice. He has a slightly different timbre when he jokes, and his body posture is more relaxed.
"She has a lot of clothes," Connor says while they're packing, because he doesn't want Gunn to start another conversation with the air, and Gunn replies, in an odd mixture of sadness and amusement: "You don't know the half of it."
Cordelia's dissappearance is a minor mystery Connor doesn't have the solution to. He doesn't want her to be dead. She was nice to him, and he has no reason to assume she had anything to do with his father's death. In fact, he has decided Fred and Gunn didn't know what they were doing, either. If they had, Gunn wouldn't have asked him about his father. So there is no real reason to stay, except that he doesn't feel like he deserves Utah yet, and he can't think of anywhere else to go. Besides, Gunn has promised to teach him to drive a car next weekend. He likes the sensation of speed, with the wind blowing all the stink this world has to offer away.
There a lot of pictures to pack as well. They show Cordelia, Fred, Gunn, the green demon, some people whom Connor doesn't know, and Angel. Angelus.
"Why did she live here?" Connor asks. "Why not at the hotel, like you?"
Gunn shrugs. "This is a great place, plus I figure she wanted some independence when she first came here. Being on her own. You're a rich white girl, you think that's cool."
"If it's cool," Connor says, and doesn't notice he has taken to using contractions most of the time, with the patterns of Holtz' formal language dissappearing ever faster, "why don't you…"
All traces of amusement have vanished from Gunn's eyes, and there is nothing but grief there.
"Being alone gets you killed, or worse," he says shortly, and Connor, who has never been alone in his entire life and knows his father died after sending him away, completely agrees.
Night clubs, for some reason, are popular meeting places among the vampire crowd. Considering his first experience with one, Connor had assumed that was their main purpose, and asked Fred and Gunn why they didn't torch them.
"Kid, you've got to get rid of that fire and sword mentality," Gunn says after an explanation about laws by Fred leaves him unconvinced. Connor thinks that just shows why there are still so many vampires around in Los Angeles. Gunn, for all his tough exterior, is soft. Connor is about to say as much when Fred says:
"We could find leads on Angel and Cordy there."
This means he'll now have to pretend to understand and be rooting for keeping night clubs around. It occurs to him he should do more than that, and he insists on coming along the next time they visit one. It's not like anyone other than Justine could tell them anything useful, but a warrior had to be cautious. Besides, it could be fun. That one time where he shamed himself by fighting side by side with Angel had been in a night club. Which of course had nothing to do with it having been fun; it had been about fighting and reducing a lot of the beasts to dust, obviously.
At the club, Fred and Gunn ask their questions, but nobody knows anything, and Connor can't spot a single vampire. There are, however, a lot of people jumping around. Dancing, Gunn says, and tells Fred: "What the hell. Let's make this an evening out."
She smiles at him, and soon they are on the floor, swaying their hips to the beat of the music. Music, by itself, is a constant surprise, very different from the songs his father used to sing when Connor was still a small child. For one thing, it is utterly unsuitable to put someone to sleep. Rather the contrary. Dancing is similar to fighting, perhaps; judging by most people's expressions, they're definitely having fun. So loud, though; everything here is too loud by far.
(Angel, under the sea, must be surrounded by utter silence.)
Fred and Gunn, dancing together, are like companions fighting side by side. Though their motions aren't nearly as well attuned; one or the other of them trips now and then, or bumps into one of the other people. But nobody seems to mind, they least of all, they just laugh, and Fred breaks into an exaggareted twirl in the end.
"I get it now," Connor says, when they come back to the bar. "Why you don't burn night clubs down."
This makes them look at him in bewilderment, until Gunn decides he has made a joke and claps him on the shoulder, shouting something about night clubs being great for finding dates and maybe Connor should find one, too. On their way home, Fred promises she'll teach him how to dance, but the next day she has an argument with Gunn about someone named Wesley, and later, she has forgotten entirely. Connor doesn't bring it up again, either.
Angel's scent gets weaker over time, but it still clings to a lot of things in the Hyperion. It must be because of the scent that Connor keeps having the dreams. Not of Quor'toth, not of his father, but of Angel. Most of the time, Angel kills him in them. The other times are the ones making him wake up shaking and gasping, and then he knows this life in so much ease is corrupting him, and he goes out to find some demon to kill.
On his way back, he remembers Fred and Gunn had told him to always let them know when he's leaving, and though he has no intention of ever obeying that rule, he stops at a store and buys some tacos for Fred.
Fred is okay with a crossbow, though not nearly as good as Gunn at fighting, which is why it's amazing to watch her type. Connor can write – his father taught him, and most of the letters he wrote in the red sand of Quor'toth got erased at once – but this use of all ten fingers is new. He watches as her fingers fly up and down, making small clicking noises, and Fred doesn't even need to concentrate very hard; she's able to tell Gunn that "Mom and Dad just wrote an email inviting us again" while producing more letters in a minute than his father did in two hours.
"You know, we didn't have a paying client in two weeks," Gunn says thoughtfully. "It's not like we're really needed here right now. We could go visit your folks. Hey, Connor, up for visiting that lone star state?"
"Is Texas near Utah?" Connor asks back, because he has found out by now that both are parts of this country. He doesn't know whether he wants it to be.
"We can't, Charles," Fred says, typing away. "What if Angel and Cordy come back just when we're gone and need our help? We can't."
Gunn gets their weekly supply of holy water from a priest named Father Fernando in Pasadena, who is small and jovial and apparently knows Gunn and Fred quite well. After Connor has come along often enough and put together what he observes in Father Fernando's church with what his father has taught him, he uses the opportunity to light a candle. His father used to do that, for MybelovedCarolinelittleDanielandSarah, each year at the day of their deaths, so he said, and one of the many things that his father hated about Quor'Toth was that it was impossible to measure time there in the same way.
The match keeps burning in Connor's fingers after he has lit the candle, and he lets it, while reciting the prayers Daniel Holtz taught him.
"My word," says Father Fernando behind him. "It's been a long time since I've heard someone pray in Latin."
Connor doesn't say anything. He knows the words by heart, but he doesn't know what they mean.
"It's for your father, isn't it?" the priest continues, and Connor feels himself unable to lie.
"Yes," he says.
"God hears your prayers," Father Fernando says earnestly. "No matter whether in this life or the next, he will find you again."